This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 10 November 2017 by Jane Sullivan.
It's a shame that The Book Club on ABC TV is coming to an end. For years I've been enjoying adventures with books with Jennifer Byrne, Marieke Hardy, Jason Steger (who leads a double life as the editor of these books pages) and their guests. I loved it particularly when they disagreed and were apparently outraged at each others' opinions – in a civilised way, of course.
It's also a shame that we have one less outlet for discussion of books in mainstream media. There are so few of them left. And yet people are still reading. Where can they go to hear about literature?
The answer is podcasts. You might have noticed they are springing up everywhere, it's definitely the Invasion of the Podcast People. In Australia, podcast listening grew by a whopping 23 per cent between 2015 and 2016, and no doubt it's grown again since. And among the thousands of podcasts on offer, there are many, local and international, and mostly free, on books and writing.
So many, in fact, that though I started this column with the intention of sampling them all, I had to give up that idea: I don't have anything like enough time. Let me refer you instead to the Book Riot website, which in October listed 15 outstanding podcasts for book lovers (and earlier posts list more).
Each podcast has a slightly different angle, and some are more serious than others. Beaks & Geeks hosts "candid conversations with authors"; Backlisted is about "bringing old books back to the surface"; the Times Literary Supplement podcast Freedom, Books, Flowers & The Moonexplores "culture and ideas through the lens of literature"; and Banging Book Club features three friends who discuss a sex book every month.
On the home front, we have podcasts of radio shows such as ABC Radio National's Books and Arts, BooksPlus and Richard Fidler's Conversations, which are sometimes with authors; 3RRR's Aural Text; and 3MBS's Pageturners. The Wheeler Centre has an archive of podcasts recording its past talks. Then there's The ReReaders, which looks at arts and culture generally, including books. And for budding writers there's the Australian Writers' Centre podcast So You Want To Be A Writer.
These podcasts tend to be laid-back and conversational, as if you're eavesdropping on someone else's chat, rather than getting a lecture. Some are clearly geared towards young audiences and their interests. It all feels more relaxing and less hard work than reading something on a page or a screen, and of course you can listen while you're doing housework or driving or exercising.
One of my favourites is The Garret, a Writers Victoria production hosted by chair Nic Brasch and vice-chair Astrid Edwards: it's a series of interviews with writers, supported by the State Library of Victoria, Readings bookshops and Swinburne University. They are not plugs for new books: they focus very much on the craft.
You can catch up with the words of Hannah Kent, Morris Gleitzman, Alice Pung and many others. Recently I listened to Christos Tsiolkas and learned a few things I didn't know – including the fact he'd read Henry Miller's notorious Tropic of Cancer when he was a boy, and couldn't make much sense of it.
For good measure I also listened to a podcast from The Guardian about Halloween books. Host Sian Cain, an Australian, interviewed Michael Hurley, British author of spooky novels, and then joined co-host Claire Armistead to talk about their favourite horror stories. Talk of nasty tales set in dark, damp and dreary places made for some incongruous but enjoyable listening on a sunny spring afternoon.